Alfred Dickens was born at 1 Devonshire Terrace in London on 28 October 1845, and was baptized at the church of St. Mary Marylebone in London on 21 April 1846. He was named after his godfathers, Alfred, Lord Tennyson and Count Alfred D’Orsay.
Alfred Dickens was educated at Brackenbury’s Military School at Wimbledon and at Mr Gibson’s boarding school in Boulogne-sur-Mer, with his brothers Henry and Sydney. Alfred Dickens considered a career in the Army, in medicine, and in business, but after failing the entrance examination into the Army, instead he spent two years working in a China House in London.
Alfred Dickens shared his father’s love for fashionable clothing, and ran up bills, in his father’s name, at various tailors. Persuaded by his father, he migrated to Australia in June 1865 aged 19, leaving behind many unpaid bills. Charles Dickens came to see him off at Paddington Station.
Charles Dickens sent him with some money and letters of introduction, hoping that he would make a career there and that he would cease to be a financial drain upon his father. According to various letters, Charles Dickens sent his son to Australia “to seek his fortune”; although he saw Alfred as “steady and working, though not in the least brilliant,” he had been anxious to get him “far away from home,” being concerned about the negative influence of his brothers and the “idleness” of London. He was followed shortly afterwards by his younger brother Edward Dickens. Alfred Dickens remained in Australia for 45 years.